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DOWNTOWN GETS MANAGER

The new leader's salary won't be affected by cutbacks forced by Amendment 1.

While Clearwater officials said this week they might have to cut back on staff because of the passage of Amendment 1, they did go ahead with one new hire.

Courtney Orr, 33, who now works in Pinellas County's communications operation, has been named to the new job of downtown manager.

Orr's duties will include marketing downtown Clearwater, recruiting new businesses, managing events, and running or helping with programs designed to aid merchants.

City Manager Bill Horne said Orr's hiring is another step toward creating a "playground for pedestrians'' in the Cleveland Street District, where folks can socialize, dine and shop.

"We are hoping she has the tools to work with businesses, citizens and the retail community to help make downtown what we want it to be,'' he said.

Hiring Orr is the latest in a series of steps the city has taken to enhance downtown. Recently, the city completed a $10-million makeover of Cleveland Street.

It took more than seven months to fill the position because Horne's office wasn't satisfied with the job candidates and did not want to rush the process.

The city began wooing Orr a few weeks ago, and she accepted. She starts Feb. 19.

"I know it's going to be a huge challenge, but I'm excited,'' Orr said.

The job pays $68,000 a year, but city officials said Orr's hiring won't be affected by cutbacks forced by Amendment 1, which will expand the property tax exemption for homesteads and reduce revenue to local governments.

That's because her position will be financed by Clearwater's Community Redevelopment Agency, which gets its revenue from the growth in property tax receipts generated by downtown redevelopment. The agency is required to invest that revenue back in downtown.

Valorie Shillington, who owns the Rabbit Hole health food cafe on Cleveland Street with her husband, Ian "Doc" Shillington, said she was thrilled to hear the news.

"We have just been experiencing a lot of help and support from the entire City Council and the mayor,'' she said.

Orr has a bachelor's degree from Indiana State University and a masters in business administration from Jones International University.

She moved to Clearwater from her native Indianapolis, in 2004 with her husband, John, to escape the snow.

She worked for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for a year and the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce for two years before landing the job at Pinellas County's North County Connections Center.

In addition to her marketing and business development duties, Orr also will administer the city's Downtown Facade Improvement Grant and Community Redevelopment Agency Assistance programs and assist the Main Street program and Downtown Development Board.

She will report to assistant city manager Rod Irwin.

"It's a critical hire in our opinion because of our investment in downtown redevelopment,'' he said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

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